From childhood to adulthood, one thing has stayed a constant in River’s life. It’s football.
In his high school days, there was never a moment where he would ever turn down an opportunity to throw the ball around and play catch outside. And when we weren’t outside, we were hitting the sticks on Madden and doing anything else related to sports.
Competition was fierce between us and more often than not always ended up in some sort of argument. The rest of the night was treated with silence. But the next day, we were back at it again.
If there is one thing I can pinpoint that has made River the wide receiver he is heading into his senior season at Washington State, it’s the little things. In his mind, the slightest adjustment or movement makes all the difference.
And River is the type of person that won’t be satisfied until things are done exactly right. Just the other day, we were shooting darts at his apartment, and after several rounds we decided to call it quits and go grab a bite to eat. But we couldn’t leave until River hit the bulls-eye, and there was nothing I could say or do about it… We weren’t leaving until he hit it.
That’s just a glimpse of the way he approaches his everyday life. It’s always a competition, and he won’t quit until it’s perfect.
I THINK IT'S safe to say that CougFans know River for having great hands and running good routes, but that didn’t just happen overnight. River and I had always been pretty even athletically, and I really didn’t notice he had surpassed me until I graduated high school. That’s when he went head-first and really committed to the game, when he truly committed to training and developing his skills.
Yes, River is an exceptional athlete, but he worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen to get to where he’s at right now, and he has never stopped. He became obsessed with route running and catching the ball. There’s really no other way to describe it.
If River didn’t put in the work that he did in high school, he probably wouldn’t have earned a scholarship and he certainly wouldn’t be here at Washington State. His skill set didn’t come naturally, he worked every day on developing himself as a football player. He was never the biggest, strongest or fastest, but he had that work ethic where other guys look and say, ‘Wow, I don’t know how he does it.’
One of the biggest factors in River’s early development -- hie relationship with his former high school quarterback, Johnny Stanton. They constantly fed off of each other and developed their skills together. They would stay after practice every day to throw extra routes and go over their plays in minute detail.
For two straight years in high school, River and Johnny would train with a QB coach at 9 a.m. every single Sunday for several hours. On other days, River would go run routes by himself without a QB. I really never saw him take a day off. On the weekends, he didn’t go out with his friends a whole lot because he was going to work out on the field early in the morning the next day.
HIS DEDICATION IS inspiring to me because I know that if I had the drive that he does, I might have been able to be in a similar position that he’s in right now. I didn’t see myself being a D-I athlete at first, and I don’t think River did either, but something clicked with him.
That same fire sparks his competitiveness and allows him to stay focused. He may not be the “best” player on the field on any given day, but I can tell you one thing for sure: he wants it more than the guy across from him.
I asked River this week what made him have the desire to put in so much work, to do the little things, to go the extra distance in his training and preparation.
"I just wanted to prove to myself that I earned the right to be where I wanted to be,” he said.
That’s my brother. He says a lot, without saying much at all.
* River wears No. 21 because it was his number when he played running back in Pop Warner.
* ABS is usually written on River's wrist tape. It means: America’s Best Slots.
* Favorite player: Julian Edelman.
* Favorite NFL team: Philadelphia Eagles.
* On pace to become the become No. 2 all-time in receptions at program history behind teammate Gabe Marks. Enters senior season with 165 receptions, eighth on WSU’s all-time list.
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